Ironically, the best way to catch one’s eye at art fairs these days, it seems, is to show virtually nothing at all—to eschew the big paintings, bigger sculptures, and shiny mirror pieces that fill so many art fairs, and to instead devote lots of space to just a few works. Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, of New York, has one of the bigger booths at Frieze, but it’s wisely devoted its more-than-decently-sized space to a mere six photographic pieces, all of them by Arthur Jafa. They are striking works about the pervasiveness of certain images and the ways we map connections among them.
All of the works are from Jafa’s “HA Crow” series, which features prints of various pictures arranged in grids. Included here is stock photography, fashion photography, colonialist photography, documentary photography, Instagram photography; selfies, film stills, advertisements, and posters. These are but a few of Jafa’s chosen pictures: a still from the closing credits of Lars von Trier’s film Dogville (2003), sleek photographs of cameras, an image of a tattered copy of Walden, a Justin Bieber red-carpet photo stolen from the internet (its URL is included at the bottom), pin-up calendars, the actress Rooney Mara performing as Lisbeth Salander in the movie adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), a W. E. B. Du Bois book cover. All of them, a gallery representative said, are “heavily edited”—they are completely different from their source files.
A few of these pictures appeared, in differently formatted versions, in Jafa’s most famous work to date, Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death (2016), a towering seven-minute montage of clips related to the American black experience, all set to Kanye West’s song “Ultralight Beam.” And while these works aren’t similar that piece, either in look or in subject matter, they do focus on how various images, many of them appropriated, can be combined to create meaning.
A representative for the gallery likened these pictures to Jafa’s ongoing binder series, for which the artist collects various images that appeal to him, most lifted from mass media sources, and brings them together. “It’s a glimpse into the workings of his mind,” she said.
Some of viewers may have been disappointed not to have found a new film by Jafa, but fear not—the gallery will make up for this by showing a new, two-hour piece at its Harlem location this week. It’s sure to be a must-see.